Published by Jack Austin, 24th November 2018 on foxsports.com.au
“It’s all about qualifying,” Scott McLaughlin said after practice on Friday and but he could not have predicted how irrelevant it became as Shane van Gisbergen won amongst the chaos of Race 30.
Van Gisbergen and Triple Eight looked as though they had nailed their strategy until a huge crash involving McLaughlin’s teammate Fabian Coulthard dramatically changed the course of the race – possibly even the championship.
But as fuel saving became a priority for McLaughlin, Van Gisbergen caught him up before snatching victory on the final lap of a stunning race.
Only two points separate the two Kiwis in the standings now going into Sunday’s finale as the Supercars title battle will finally reach its conclusion.
Jamie Whincup admitted this weekend he was “p***ed off” not to be involved in the championship going into the final weekend – only the second time in the last 10 years that has been the case – but he made sure his presence was felt all the same.
Both he and Coulthard both made a position on their teammates going into the first corner, before then both conceding those places a few laps further on.
That allowed Van Gisbergen to build up a significant lead as Whincup held up the rest of the field. The gap was more than six seconds by the time the No.97 car pitted.
That’s when the drama stepped up a few gears though as Triple Eight’s masterplan began to unravel.
Firstly, Whincup and Coulthard clashed as the former tried to make his way back through the field to help his teammate. The No.12 was having none of it though and as Whincup tried to pass him, he was ushered into the tyre wall, leaving the front of his car with significant damage.
Next, the thousands in attendance we treated to some real head-to-bumper racing as SVG exited the pit lane just in front of McLaughlin, who had already pitted and was on warmer tyres.
What ensued was a real battle as Van Gisbergen showed nerves of steel – contrary to his admission before the race that he was “nervous as s*** – and managed to hold off his compatriot to re-establish his lead.
Then chaos struck. Coulthard went too wide and crashed into the wall before Nick Percat arrived and slammed into the back of the No.12 Shell V-Power and Tim Blanchard also got involved.
Out came the safety car and the chaos continued in the pitlane.
Lowndes then went over Scott Pye in the pit, doing damage to his Commodore, before losing a wheel as Mark Winterbottom accidentally pushed it all the way down the lane. He did return to the race, albeit five laps off the pace as he was determined not to make retire again as he did in both races here last year.
And it didn’t stop there as SVG had to return to the pits as he didn’t get all the fuel he needed the first time, giving McLaughlin the lead.
Fuel was just something else both men had to consider and they were in fuel-saving mode from as early as 36 laps remaining as Chaz Mostert was lost his wing in the same place as Coulthard did earlier in the race.
That gave Van Gisbergen second and Pye pitting then gave him second place but there was seemingly nothing he could do to stop McLaughlin winning again with the gap at nearly 6.3502secs.
But McLaughlin was saving as much fuel as he can as DJR Team Penske panicked that he would not finish the race, giving Van Gisbergen the opportunity he needed to take him and the victory on the final lap.
All eyes now turn to Sunday where McLaughlin will be in the familiar position of leading the series going into the final race. Can he hold onto it this time though? We won’t have to wait long to find out.